Reading & Writing

Writing Prompt: The Center of Attention

To find today’s prompt, I scrolled through the photos on my laptop. Most of them were of my daughter, in a pink dress, frolicking with our dogs. She’s wearing a peacock feather in her hair and holding a few fake flowers. There’s paint or ink on her arms.

Twenty minutes before these photos were taken, my daughter was not smiling. She moped around the house, growled, grumbled. She was BORED. Everything was BORING.

For a moment, I saw myself at five. I remembered a day when my mom dressed me in a new outfit and took me to the playground, camera in hand. Just us. She had me climb the slide, sit on the swings, look over my shoulder while she took pictures. She used up the roll of film. Just on me. It was one of the very best days of my life.

So I did the same for my daughter. I let her put gel in her hair and loaned her my fanciest headband. She had a great afternoon.

Looking at these photos, I initially titled the exercise “Happy Place.” But the more I thought about it, the more I realized what made those moments special for my daughter and me, and it wasn’t the place. It wasn’t the clothes or even the photos. It was time spent with our mothers, but that wasn’t quite it, either. It was time with our mothers’ undivided attention.

So I want you to think about one of your characters, or if you’re writing memoir, yourself. I want you to think about a time when they (or you) were the center of attention–the very center–and if they/you never were, I want you to imagine it, preferably in a positive light. This might mean the character has to be very young, and the attention will probably come from an adult whose attention feels terribly important.

Give yourself ten minutes. Try to fill them.

When you’re finished, I’d love to read them! Post in the comments!

Here’s mine:

Miranda stood on the dusty path, watching her father walk away from her. The trees were so tall, the light dancing around their branches in such strange shapes and smudges. She didn’t like it here. She wanted her home. She wanted the palm tree in the backyard, where her mother used to sit and read. She wanted to float in the swimming pool and drink lemonade. She did not want to stand in the dirt, listening to her father talk about trees without noticing she wasn’t listening.

He was walking back to her now. “Hey,” he said. “What’s wrong?”

She didn’t want to tell him. And it wasn’t such an easy thing to say. The whole world was wrong, and the moon, and the stars, and the spaceships she imagined floating between them. This forest was wrong, the rocks and dirt and all the bugs. The world was upside down.

He put a hand on each of her shoulders. “I know,” he said. He lifted her off the path and onto his shoulders. She had to duck, as he carried her, to keep the pine needles out of her hair.

They walked until they reached the edge of the water, where the rocks turned to pebbles turned to sand. He took off her shoes, then lowered her to the ground. He took off his own shoes and walked into the water. He held out his arms and though her stomach clenched as the sea splashed her toes, she walked into them.

She took each of his hands. “What are we doing?”

“We’re swimming.”

“I don’t know how.”

“I’ll teach you.”

He knelt down in the water, the waves lapping at his waist. He held her tightly, kept his eye on hers. He taught her to put her face in the water and blow bubbles. He told her about danger–rip tides, the undertow, all the ways the ocean could swallow her–and how to avoid it. He told her she’d have to be strong to live here, on an island. He told her she’d have to be smart.

“What if I’m not?” she asked, gripping his fingers, digging her toes into the sand.

He smiled and said, “You are.”

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